August 01, 2007
The buzz about Ron Paul has gotten louder, as was inevitable in the case of the lone antiwar Republican candidate, and yet there is something about “Dr. No” personally that has struck a chord in the popular imagination: he seems to represent the very spirit of rectitude, with his stern warnings of a coming financial crunch if we don’t mend our ways. His revival of what were once common conservative Republican themes—individual rights, a belief in limited government, particular devotion to the Constitution, the principle of prudence in foreign policy—is a reproach to the current GOP ideology of “big government conservatism” on the home front and reckless adventurism abroad. The reaction from the neoconservatives—notably Ryan Sager and Jonah Goldberg—has been to alternately smear and mock him.
There’s a new variation of anti-Paulism, however, coming not from neoconservatives but from ostensible admirers. It’s the “I like Ron Paul, but …” approach, taken by John Derbyshire in National Review:
“Go on, admit it: you have felt the Ron Paul temptation, haven”t you? And it’s not just the thrill of imagining another president named Ron, is it? Ron Paul believes a lot of what you believe, and what I believe. You don”t imagine he’s going to be the 44th POTUS, but you kind of hope he does well none the less.”
After praising Paul to the rafters, and even defending the campaign against the impression given by Christopher Caldwell’s New York Times magazine piece that the campaign, he asks: so why not jump on board the Paul bandwagon, and start supporting someone whose principles you admire? Well, because …
At this point, Derbyshire drifts off into a story about his Chinese immigrant friend who complained that he to procure so many permits, obey so many regulations, and pay so many taxes and other fees to open a new business that he just gave up and went to work for somebody else. Derbyshire asked him why, and here is what he said:
“We didn”t realize this is a mature economy. So many permits, regulations, accounting rules, taxes! In China, we could have got this off the ground in no time, working out of back rooms and sticking up poster ads. Here “ forget it! You”re killed by lawyers” and accountants” and agents” fees before you get started. Stick up an ad, the city comes after you.”
An interesting story that illustrates how much easier it is to open a business in “Communist” China than in the “capitalist” United States—right? And the moral of this story is: Ron Paul for President? Not in Derbyshire’s book, however. He draws quite a different lesson from this anecdote, although don’t ask me how or why. He writes:
“Something analogous applies to politics. If Washington, D.C. were the drowsy southern town that Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge rode into, Ron Paul would have a chance. Washington’s not like that nowadays, though. It is a vast megalopolis, every nook and cranny stuffed with lobbyists, lawyers, and a hundred thousand species of tax-eater. The sleepy old boulevards of the 1920s are now shadowed between great glittering ziggurats of glass and marble, where millions of administrative assistants to the Department of Administrative Assistance toil away at sending memos to each other.
“Few of these laborers in the vineyards of government do anything useful. (In my experience “ I used to have to deal with them “ few do anything much at all.) Some of what they do is actually harmful to the nation. On the whole, though, we have settled in with this system. We are used to it. It’s not going away, absent a revolution; and conservatives are “ duh! “ not, by temperament, revolutionaries.”
The degeneration of our old republic into all-embracing, all-powerful Leviathan is “maturity.” It’s inevitable, a natural evolutionary process, and there’s nothing anyone, including Ron Paul, can do about it. We just have to accept the glass and steel ziggurats of empire and have as much fun as we can sniping from the sidelines. In a post on “The Corner,” Derbyshire explains that, of course he’s not for Ron Paul, he’s for … Benito Giuliani. The un-Ron (anti-Paul), or, perhaps, the Bizarro World Ron Paul, who inverts in every possible way the libertarian-traditional conservative stance on everything from foreign policy to civil liberties to economic liberty. Given a choice between the Thug, and the Thinker—for Ron Paul is nothing if not thoughtful, perhaps even a bit professorial—Derbyshire goes with the Thug.
It’s pathetic, really, to contemplate the depths of such a tragic defeatism. For Derbyshire is clearly quite intelligent, and even manages to maintain his own subversive persona in the midst of a bunch of party-lining neocons (no mean feat!), and yet … Rudy?
“Ron Paul is not possible,” avers Derbyshire. “His candidacy belongs to the realm of dreams, not practical politics. But, oh, what sweet dreams!”
But of course one could say the same about the chances of any Republican presently in the race: given the overwhelming and quite active hostility of the electorate to the GOP, these days—it’s all about the war, you know—I don’t think even the Thug has much of a chance of demagoguing his way into the White House. So, if a Republican—any Republican— is going to lose, anyway, then all this mathematician’s figuring of odds is beside the point. The point being that, like the Goldwater campaign, a Paul candidacy could build something for the future. After all, a political movement is built on ideas, and if Derbyshire wants at least one of the major parties to reflect what he claims are his own views—ideas supposedly very similar to Paul’s—then why not support the Texas troublemaker? To Senor Derbyshire I have this to say: in your heart you know he’s right!
The Paul campaign presents the neocon-dominated Right with a horrible dilemma: on the one hand, Ron Paul believes what the base believes, and more consistently than any of the other candidates. On the other hand, the Establishment can’t allow him to be nominated, or even to come close, because that would fatally undermine the War Party’s plans—to use the GOP as a base until it is reduced to being a regional, Southern-based party, and it’s too late for anyone to do anything about it. So the GOP Establishment must invent a whole host of reasons not to support him: he’s a “bigot,” he’s an “extremist,” he may not be an extremist and/or a bigot but some of his supporters are, the country isn’t ready for another Texan Republican—and when those hollow excuses don’t work, they bring out the old song-and-dance about how he “can’t win.” Based on that sort of logic, Republican voters should all vote for the Democrat.
Elsewhere in National Review, we see the authentic voice of the grassroots come through with Todd Seavey’s spirited piece in a later edition of NRO online, which is the perfect retort to Derbyshire’s weary defeatism. And for comic relief, we have Lisa Schiffren opining that, if only Paul wasn’t so burdened with all those ideological principles, “he could parlay that into a cabinet position” and then maybe gain enough influence to abolish his department—and fulfilll the 30-year “dream” of conservatives.
Dream on, Lisa! Paul is aiming for a lot higher than putting a “limited government” gloss on a warmongering, neocon-dominated administration that is intent on expanding the role of government in our lives. But it was good for a laugh.